Are All Audiences Dumb?
Have you ever wondered why audiences don’t always understand an important message? Or cringed as a subject matter expert “bombed” when speaking or presenting. When it feels like they are speaking to only half the room. Having left the rest behind like they’ve driven up a one way street and then parked at the end of the road. The sheer frustration in seeing all this expertise going unrewarded and unrecognised. Or worse, completely ignored.
Why does this happen? Take a moment to consider this phenomenon and ask yourself why didn’t the idea resonate? Was it the idea (concept) or the delivery (context)? The correct answer is often a combination of both.
1. The Great Idea Test
Aristotle broke down the 3 key elements required. Logos, Pathos and Ethos. A great idea needs all three. A good idea has many layers and a great piece of content is like an onion. It has layers you can peel back as you read or hear it again, revealing new information each time.
To flesh out a great idea and ensure it has layers you must understand where within the onion the original idea sits. Then decide if you need to add inside layers (minutia) or outside layers (big picture). For example, if you are talking about a manufacturing company workforce. This idea would sit in the middle. The inside layers would be the individual workers. The outside layers would be the company culture, product and brand. Each description of additional information then added a new layer on top or underneath.
2. Is it 50% Of Your Brain’s Fault?
It’s a simplistic notion but the majority of us are generally either left-brain or right-brain people. Hard-wired to think, and act, based on this genetic bias. Whist the science may be a little more sketchy we do use both sides or our brain. But many of us have a dominant side. A preference for one side over the other. Left brain is analytical, figures and data. Lots of logic, details and facts. Little emotion. Right-brain engages creativity using stories and metaphors. Images, pictures plus emotion.
It’s not complex but it’s our default state of operating mode. If we don’t consciously think about the other half we tend to ignore it when writing, speaking and presenting our ideas. When writing we need to force our thinking into the other side. When we do this we can communicate our ideas to everyone, not just the people who share our thinking preferences.
My left brain is doing the best job it can with the information it has to work with. I need to remember, however, that there are enormous gaps between what I know and what I think I know. – Jill Bolte Taylor
To help bridge this gap, great presenters often use metaphors as a short cut to achieve this. Allowing the audiences brain to use their existing knowledge to immediately understand the metaphor. Giving it their own context. The added bonus, is that if you get the metaphor right it can be more powerful than your key ideas. The metaphor engages the right side or creative part of our brain. So left brain thinkers should be using one wherever possible.
3. The Content Vs Context Struggle
Many writers deal in content without providing enough context. When this happens it is much harder for the general public to understand the information other, than on a superficial level. What happened to them, how they solved a problem, what their big idea is. But when it lacks context it’s almost impossible to follow. Like footsteps on the beach, the path is quickly eroded. Leaving us with the idea that someone walked this path, but we aren’t able to follow in their footsteps. Real learning tends to occur on the intersection of both content and context. As you learn more about the boundary lines of where they meet. Kind of like a Venn diagram. Only then are you able to fully understand the content.
4. Show Don’t Tell
For some people text, facts and figures are like humans talking to dogs. In an episode of Frasier they use the super smart dog Eddie to see the world from his point of view. When someone is talking to him he hears “Blah blah blah, Eddie, Blah blah blah.” The same thing applies to many right-brain people. To understand the message you are conveying they need to see it in a diagram or some kind of visual aid.
An image is more likely to stay in our brain in a way that a series of figures or words never will. We are hard wired to look for meaning and patterns in things we see. When you dig back into your memory I’m sure that images and places are far more prominent that she said, he said. So ensure that you include an element of show rather than all tell.
When I talk to business owners about Mastermind groups I use this infographic to capture meaning in a way that words cannot.
5. Deliberately Including ALL of Your Audience
If we cannot convince people of the big picture idea (lacking pathos) then it proves much harder later to convince them. Regardless of how much logic (logos) we then present. We need to ensure that we speak to both left-brain and right-brain dominant people.
Here are 5 key pointers to remember:-
- Stop communicating only from our preference (One side only)
- Eliminate ideas that lack structure (and layers)
- Add graphics and metaphors (Show don’t tell)
- Trying to connect using too much information.(Content without context)
- Mix both logic (logos) AND emotion (pathos)
These subtle nuances and distinctions will set you apart from the ordinary, giving you a better return on your intellect, and turn great ideas into powerful memes that spread.
As a writer I tend to obsess over the perfect post (which I know is impossible) but just by understanding this basic idea of left and right brain I can ensure that I no longer ignore 50% of the audience.
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